Answering the challenge of customer expectations in the digital age - part 1

As the unprecedented pace of advances in the digital world overshadow the contact centre landscape, the way forward may rest in some old-fashioned principles, argues Steve Doyle, The Customer Experience Coach.

PDF: Answering the challenge of customer expectations in the digital age – WHITE PAPER – Feb 2017

In a digital environment that allows individuals to interact with a company or brand through both traditional and emerging channels, customers have never been better informed, and have never expected a higher level of service when they choose to connect with a brand through an assisted channel, like a call to a contact centre agent. Few would argue that cultural transformation is one of the most important catalysts for operational and practical change necessary for contact centres to not just survive, but thrive in this new world. While culture is known to be critical to employee engagement, workforce capability, retention rates and management practices, it is often seen as one of the more difficult aspects of an organisation to change. This paper demonstrates how a well-designed and targeted coaching program can be a highly practical, productive and cost-efficient way of achieving cultural evolution.

The digital age provides organisations with a multitude of channels and ways to service customer needs and, in doing so, differentiate their service offerings. A corollary of these advances, however, is the challenge presented by today’s more savvy, more demanding customer. This customer no longer lives in a space of limited choices and options, but occupies a new landscape where individuality is the key. Today’s customer not only wants the solution, they want to use the channel that suits them.

In the face of omni-channel service offerings, customers expect to have accurate information available to them when and where they want it. They are now likely to be able to source for themselves (via the internet or apps) most of the information that a contact centre agent can access. The delivery of quick and accurate information by an agent is no longer seen as a value-add, but a base-line. Organisations are faced with the challenge of giving the customer a better experience than the one available through a digital, self-service channel.

Further, as digital options cater to more of the individual’s needs, the need for customers to use human assisted channels decreases. This increases the importance of every contact centre call: your organisation will have fewer opportunities to really delight a customer with the personal service they receive from an agent, and so every call counts more than ever.

Rather than being ready and braced for this challenge, I would argue that many, perhaps most, contact centre environments are struggling under the weight they already bear.

Ever-increasing contact centre contact complexity has led to an erosion of frontline performance and employee satisfaction. Contact centres have always been the focus of workforce analytics and the drive to minimise cost, while maximising ‘output’. Agents become disillusioned as this ‘output’ is measured on misguided KPIs that serve neither the customer nor, in reality, the business. The ever greater weight of further processes and metrics imposed on them reduces their level of autonomy and responsibility, while little is done to resource them better to meet these demands. An ‘us and them’ culture pervades, and digital advances give rise to fears that even the unsatisfying work they currently perform will ultimately become an automated function.

There is no wonder that attrition and absenteeism continue to soar, and that turnover rates are some of the highest of any industry. While the industry recognises these problems, as well as the dearth of real leadership in the contact centre space, the majority of agents are still not receiving regular coaching[1].

Q: How do contact centre management teams answer the challenge of evolved customer expectations using the old environment, processes and metrics?

A: They don’t. They create new ones.

While most agree that changes to process and metrics are relatively easy to implement, few feel as confident when dealing with the intangible factor of culture. Culture is hard to completely define or grapple with, yet we know that if it is not working for us, it’s working against us… and importantly, against our bottom line!

So how do we change culture?

[1] Silent Edge (2012).

Employee satisfaction is not the opposite of employee dissatisfaction

More than 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg[1] helped us understand that employee satisfaction and employee dissatisfaction are not two ends of the one spectrum. Rather, dissatisfaction tends to arise from extrinsic factors in an employee’s work, where satisfaction arises from intrinsic factors.

Extrinsic factors include:

  • salary

  • working conditions

  • policy and administration

Intrinsic factors include:

  • challenging and interesting work

  • being supported to achieve and grow

  • being recognised

  • being given more responsibility

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